on Sept. 25, 2007
Police in Kazakhstan bulldoze the home of devotees.
The future of Hare Krishna devotees in Kazakhstan is still in doubt months after the government demolished two dozen homes of believers. Widespread human rights abuses by the government have mobilized human rights organizations in the US to oppose the Kazahk bid to chair an important international organization, the OSCE.
Freedom House, together with six of the U.S.’s most prominent human rights organizations, issued a letter today to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, urging her to strongly oppose a bid by Kazakhstan to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009.
Despite a well-documented record of undemocratic governance, Kazakhstan has continued to push to lead the OSCE, an organization with a respected track record in human rights promotion and election monitoring. After years of lobbying by the Kazakhstani government, most European countries now support Kazakhstan’s bid. Only the U.S. and the U.K. are still in opposition, and a change of position by the U.S. may be imminent.
“A chairmanship by Kazakhstan would irreparably damage the OSCE’s legitimacy and ability to defend those working on the front lines for democratic change,” wrote the groups in the letter. “It would render the organization powerless in promoting vibrant civil societies and human rights, and will assure a solidly undemocratic government that democratic credentials do not matter. We strongly urge that the United States government reconsider a tacit endorsement of Kazakhstan’s bid.”
The letter was signed by representatives of Amnesty International USA, Global Rights, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, and Physicians for Human Rights, as well as Freedom House.
The text of the letter is below.
September 21, 2007
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Rice:
We understand that a U.S. decision to concur in the selection of Kazakhstan to preside over the Organization for Security and Cooperation during the 2009 term is imminent. Due to the Kazakhstani government’s poor record on democracy, we believe that its chairmanship will be a disaster for the OSCE’s ability to be a guarantor of human rights among its member states and that the U.S. should therefore continue to oppose it.
Kazakhstan’s anti-democratic record is well-documented. Kazakhstan has yet to hold a national election that meets OSCE standards. President Nazarbayev’s sweeping victory in the December 2005 presidential election came against a backdrop of government pressure on the country’s civil society and political opposition, charges of electoral fraud, and a highly critical report by poll monitors from the OSCE. The brutal February 2006 murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev highlighted the country’s disturbing tendency toward political violence. President Nazarbayev’s welcoming of the single-party parliament that resulted from the August elections as “a wonderful opportunity toi speed up our country’s economic and political modernization" speaks volumes to his respect for institutions promoting pluralism.
Over the years, the OSCE has established a respected track record of credibility in election monitoring and human rights defense. In fact, it is one of the few remaining serious intergovernmental bodies that advocates for democracy and human rights. A Kazakhstan chairmanship would irreparably damage the OSCE’s legitimacy and ability to defend those working on the front lines for democratic change.
In 2005, President Bush said that “one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.” Kazakhstan is one such dark corner that remains. Rewarding Kazakhstan with the OSCE chairmanship will only serve to assure a solidly undemocratic government that democratic credentials do not matter, while sending a stark message to human rights defenders around the world. At this crucial time, the countries of Europe cannot afford to ignore the defense of liberty and human rights, nor can the U.S. We strongly urge that the United States government reconsider this tacit endorsement of Kazakhstan’s bid.
Robert Arsenault, President
International League for Human Rights
Mr. Salih Booker, Executive Director
Ms. Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director
Human Rights First
Ms. Felice D. Gaer, Director
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
Mr. Tom Malinowski, Washington Advocacy Director Human Rights Watch
Robin Phillips, Executive Director
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
Len Rubenstein, President
Physicians for Human Rights
Ms. Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director Freedom House